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Going Green: 10 Ways to Reduce Carbon Emissions in Industrial Buildings

By Deepu Balaraman | July 29, 2021

Canada has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. To achieve this goal, new building construction will need to incorporate technologies that will help reduce their carbon footprint. Whether it’s through the direct effects of building construction and operations or an indirect repercussion to surrounding habitats and waterways, buildings have a tremendous impact on the environment.

Industrial and commercial manufacturing buildings have historically been one of the largest contributors to water and air pollution. Manufacturing building materials like concrete, aluminum and steel produce large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. Over the course of a building’s lifecycle, the construction, renovation, expansion and demolition phases use energy, water and raw materials that ultimately generate an estimated 40 percent of the world’s annual carbon emissions. Balancing carbon emissions throughout a building’s lifecycle, particularly those in the industrial sector, is an extremely important initiative that will contribute to reaching our national net zero carbon goals.

Benefits of Going Green

When it comes to sustainability, there are several green building rating systems that guide the design and construction process. From Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Zero Carbon Building (ZCB), Passive House, the WELL Building Standard and many more, building owners have a variety of methods to consider when weighing green building decisions.

As the cost of carbon emissions increases, it’s easier than ever to justify implementing green building guidelines. While all certifications have proven benefits, the ZCB guidelines have become the most significant in the industrial sector as they closely align with government goals. Professional architects, engineers and builders are adopting ZCB practices into their designs. What’s clear is that building to a green standard now enables owners to save on costly retrofits that may result from future government regulations, and reduce operating costs by implementing higher efficiency systems from occupancy onward.

In addition to construction and operational cost savings, green building methods maximize facility resilience, reduce environmental impacts and minimize fossil fuel consumption – reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a result. Sustainable measures are worked into construction through design and material selections that minimize the heating and cooling load needed to maintain a comfortable indoor environment. The green building approach also considers the surrounding natural environment by including guidelines to minimize disruptions to natural habitats and waterways. This approach can positively impact urban areas by reducing the heat island effect, which is the ability of infrastructure to absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat, causing ambient temperatures to rise.

To take advantage of green building benefits, industrial building owners can incorporate sustainable measures in two ways – actively or passively.

Active Sustainable Performance Measures

An active approach involves upgrading or selecting building controls or systems that reduce a facility’s energy load requirements. Examples of active elements include, but are not limited to:

  1. High efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC): these systems deliver precise conditioning while minimizing the energy needed to heat/cool spaces through demand-controlled ventilation, sensors and energy recovery ventilators. Additionally, replacing regular boilers with high efficiency condensing boilers, can result in energy cost savings of at least 25 percent.
  2. High efficiency LED lighting and controls: these lighting systems use less power and prevent heat gain through a control system that incorporates occupancy and daylight sensors to lower consumption while not in use, or when spaces are unoccupied.

  3. Building automation systems: centralizing building controls allow facility operators to track energy use peak hours and develop an automated schedule that offsets peak hours of occupancy. This balances a building’s overall energy load and improves energy efficiency long-term.

  4. Onsite electrical power generation: many owners are opting to reduce a building’s energy load by incorporating onsite renewable energy sources, such as roof-mounted solar panels or mini wind turbines. Depending on the building, these energy sources may be used to power certain systems within the facility, easing the draw on traditional electrical systems.

  5. High efficiency geothermal systems: these systems exchange building heat with below ground temperatures through heat pumps. The systems reduce natural gas consumption, as well as operational carbon emissions by using the earth’s stable subgrade temperature to regulate building temperature.

Passive Sustainable Performance Measures

A passive approach to green building involves considering how a facility will interact with its natural environment. By combining passive elements, like solar energy, with building materials or design elements, owners can take the natural landscape into account to balance a building’s energy load. Examples of passive features include, but are not limited to:

  1. Building orientation: the situation or orientation of a building has a large impact on how it interacts with its environment. Building orientation can make the most of natural daylight, shading from adjacent buildings or trees, or limit exposure to dominant wind and rainfall patterns. Situating a building to face north or including north-facing skylights, for example, will provide consistent natural daylight for interior spaces, adding to occupant comfort. A building can also be designed and oriented to harvest solar heat, which can be further controlled through solar window shades and sophisticated building automation systems.
  2. Better building insulation: incorporating exterior envelope elements that have a higher insulation rating can increase the thermal efficiency of a building and minimize the heating/cooling loads while providing a comfortable environment for occupants. This can be accomplished by using triple glazed window panes, pre-insulated metal panels, precast concrete panels and high-performing dock seal doors to reduce air infiltration and heat loss.

  3. Use of recycled materials: manufacturing building materials like wood, steel and concrete produce large amounts of carbon dioxide. By sourcing recycled materials, building owners or developers can incorporate cost-effective, environmentally-friendly materials that limit manufacturing emissions and material waste in landfills.

  4. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood products: using FSC certified wood products harvested from forests and habitats that are responsibly and environmentally managed has become an industry standard. FSC balances the important social impacts of logging with the environmental outcomes and socio-economic values provided by well managed forests.

  5. Onsite water management systems: including onsite storm water management systems, such as underground cisterns or above-ground ponds to store and collect rainwater, gives owners a natural water source that will evaporate naturally or can be reused for landscape irrigation. By keeping as much water onsite as possible, owners reduce the amount of water drawn into or drained from a building, which offsets the load on municipal infrastructure.

Although there are many active and passive ways of implementing sustainable features into new and existing industrial buildings, it’s important to choose the ones that make the most sense for your budget and project goals.

A project manager or third-party advisor can work with you to ensure that you’re able to take budget-conscious steps toward an environmentally-friendly future. As environmental awareness and options become standardized within the construction industry, it’s becoming easier to implement cost-effective solutions in buildings of all kinds – from industrial warehouses and factories to corporate offices and retail stores. By working in a plan to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions on your next building or renovation project, you’ll become an active player in redefining the industrial sector and contributing to Canada’s larger net zero carbon emissions plan.

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